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Rookie Cop Gave It His All to the End

Oceanside police colleagues and his parents praise slain officer, who leaves a wife and infant son. A gang member is in custody.

June 15, 2003|Anna Gorman and Tony Perry | Times Staff Writers

OCEANSIDE — Police Officer Tony Zeppetella had a new wife and 6-month-old son at home, but that didn't keep him from devoting long hours as a rookie police officer, co-workers and family members said Saturday.

"He would come in early and stay late, trying to be the best policeman you can be," said Oceanside Police Det. Mike Bowman. "That takes a lot of dedication when you have a brand-new family at home."

Zeppetella was fatally shot Friday after making a routine traffic stop outside the Navy Federal Credit Union building in Oceanside. The suspected gunman fled in the officer's squad car.

On Saturday, his parents mourned the loss of their son, whom they described as fun-loving but always a hard worker.

"He was a real hero," said his father, Tony Zeppetella, who lives in Paso Robles and works in construction. "I know I'm going to be missing him a lot."

Zeppetella attended Paso Robles High School, where he played tennis and was an honors student. He graduated in 1994 and enlisted in the Navy and became a computer specialist based on the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis. After six years in the Navy, he decided to become a police officer, even though his parents thought it was too dangerous. At the police academy, he won an award for physical fitness, his mother said.

"That kid done good in everything he did and he always wanted to do better," said Renate Zeppetella. "To be honest, I couldn't ask for a better son."

He met his wife, Jamie, while working as a personal trainer at a gym. The couple married in May 2002 and had a son, Jacob, in December. His mother said her son loved the outdoors and frequently went hiking, rock climbing and snowboarding. He also attended church regularly and was also working on his college degree, taking classes in the evenings. He was the youngest of three siblings, leaving behind a brother, George Kudzma, and a sister, Renate Georges.

Off-duty Marines and sailors made a desperate attempt to save the life of the mortally wounded officer Friday afternoon by administering first aid until an evacuation helicopter arrived, police said Saturday.

The military personnel were cashing checks at the Navy Federal Credit Union in the eastern part of the northern San Diego County suburb when they heard gunshots.

The 27-year-old rookie police officer had been repeatedly shot after making a routine traffic stop. The suspected gunman fled in the officer' s squad car.

"This is a sad day for the Oceanside Police Department and our profession," police officials said Saturday. "Our hearts and prayers go out to the officer's family and friends."

The suspect, Adrian Camacho, 30, who police said is a "documented" gang member, surrendered after a three-hour standoff with the SWAT team that surrounded his family's home nearby. Camacho later was treated for injuries sustained during the shooting, which occurred shortly after 5 p.m. Friday.

Zeppetella was flown by Mercy Air helicopter to Palomar Medical Center in Escondido. He was later pronounced dead.

Officials in Oceanside -- once considered a center for gang activity -- in the last three years have launched an aggressive anti-gang effort, which includes securing court orders that restrict gang members from congregating in some areas of the city, or from hanging out together.

Police said Camacho has an extensive criminal history and is among those gang members who are well known to police.

Officials declined Saturday to discuss reports that Zeppetella, who had been patrolling without a training officer for only a few months, was shot with his own gun. His squad car was found a mile from the credit union.

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